EXCLUSIVE - by DOUG COLLIE
Every Borders councillor is costing taxpayers an average of more than £425 per week in allowances and expenses, making them members of the third most costly group of elected representatives in Scottish local government, Not Just Sheep & Rugby has discovered.
This week Scottish Borders Council published its annual statement detailing the money spent on the salaries and expenses claims of its 34 councillors during the financial year 2014/15. The total of £757,172 means the gross average payment to each elected member works out at £22,269 or £428 a week based on a 52-week year.
Detailed and painstaking research by our investigations team allowed us to obtain the equivalent expenditure by every council in mainland Scotland on its councillors. And we learned that only Aberdeenshire and the City of Edinburgh exceeded the average payment per head which prevailed in Scottish Borders. The 68 elected members in Aberdeenshire received, on average, £492 per week (£25,590 per annum) while the corresponding figures for Edinburgh's councillors were £430 (£22,380).
Our Borders representatives were £13 a week better off than their counterparts in Glasgow City Council, earned £15 a week more than colleagues in Aberdeen and collected £21 a week more than councillors in Dundee.
According to one local government observer who has had sight of our statistics: "The figures for Scottish Borders Council are clearly inflated and therefore distorted by the extraordinary number of portfolio holders and the range of 'responsibility' payments many of which should be scrapped. Very few local councillors question recommendations or decisions so this can hardly be deemed value for money. In the vast majority of cases they neither scrutinise nor challenge what is put before them.
"It is quite shocking to be told the Borders is in the bronze medal position on councillor expenditure when the nature of the work is both part time and probably much less demanding than the workload of elected members in more populated urban areas where the issues are invariably more complicated or sensitive. It is difficult to see how such a high ranking on the spending league table can be justified".
It would appear from our research that the old adage Small is Beautiful can be applied to the cost of democracy in Scotland. Clackmannanshire, the tiniest local authority on the mainland, spent just £314,608 on allowances and expenses for its 18 councillors. That works out at only £17,478 per elected member or £336 a week - an impressive £92 per week less than the Borders average.
So far as neighbouring councils are concerned all of them spent considerably less per capita on their respective teams of councillors than SBC. Midlothian was the second "cheapest" council in Scotland on this expenditure scale with its 19 councillors costing £18,044 (£347 per week). Meanwhile Dumfries & Galloway Council spent a total of £974,116 on 47 councillors which works out at £20,725 per councillor per year or £398 a week. And East Lothian's 23 elected members collected £20,145 (£387 per week) on average.
Additional reporting by Ossie Shearer